The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Reid's Play-By-Play Becoming Problematic For ESPN? by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday September 6, 2011

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where we have to deal with delays just like everyone else. This weekend’s postponement of the Sprint Cup Series Advocare 500 to Tuesday morning (and it’s unclear whether it will even be able to start at 11am as of now) means that it will not be covered in this critique. Whenever the race actually runs, look for a potential NASCAR NonStop preview at some point during the Cup race. ESPN desires to test their new setup in order to make sure there aren’t any issues prior to it’s use in the Chase. By all indications, it’ll be pretty good. Remember that it will only show up in the second half of Chase races.

However, there was still plenty of action of cover this past weekend. At Atlanta, the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series raced on the 1.54 mile quad-oval before the rains moved in. In addition, the Izod IndyCar Series made their first-ever visit to Baltimore, Maryland to race on the bumpy, mostly concrete streets.


Versus covered the inaugural running of the Baltimore Grand Prix.

Baltimore Grand Prix

On Sunday afternoon, the Izod IndyCar Series returned to Versus for their assault on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland. Up until Sunday, the weekend wasn’t necessarily the best for the brand-new event. A nasty chicane had to be installed a few hundred feet before the start-finish line due to light rail tracks crossing over the circuit. Obviously, the organizers didn’t want a repeat of CART’s experience at San Jose in 2005, when the series raced on what some consider “the worst track ever.” There was also a really strange pit road setup that saw Danica Patrick and Ed Carpenter pitting on the opposite side of the pit lane from everyone else. Guess they weren’t expecting 28 cars to show up.

Pre-race coverage was fairly typical. Versus provided viewers with a quick recap of the last race in Sonoma with some radio chatter embedded in.

There was also an Uncut feature with Giorgio Pantano. Since Pantano is a newcomer to the series, the piece allowed Pantano to introduce himself to viewers. I was not really a fan of Versus putting subtitles on the piece. Pantano is a fluent English speaker and I had no problems understanding him. Seems like an interesting guy and he’ll be a good, if temporary addition to the series.

The Professor B feature of the week concerned aerodynamics and suspension tweaks in order to handle the bumpy streets in Baltimore. This mainly concerned the removal of anti-roll bar in order to increase body roll.

There were also five live interviews shown during the show. In addition, Versus aired taped interviews with Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves after their huge crash in the morning warm-up. Robin Miller’s grid run returned after an absence from Sonoma, and he added an additional eight quick interviews.

Race coverage was decent. Versus’ trio in the booth seems to work quite well together. They’re the kind of guys that can bust each other’s chops without anyone taking offense. It’s quite a change from last fall in Homestead, when everything fell apart.

The tread cam returned after a long absence, but it was not placed in the best location (on a slight uphill grade right before Turn 5). However, that placement decision was likely made since 80 percent of the circuit is concrete. Still not ideal, though.

There was a quick cutaway shot of Race Control on Lap 29 after Will Power was guilty of cutting the aforementioned chicane. I believe that was a first and it gave fans an idea of what the much maligned Brian Barnhart has at his disposal (in addition to radios and spotters). It’s a pretty sweet setup, to be honest. Of course, the race didn’t go by without a questionable decision. The race was basically decided by a 12 lap full course caution after Ryan Briscoe spun out Ryan Hunter-Reay and blocked the track on Lap 38. The caution was overly long, and Graham Rahal complained as such about it after the race to Versus’ Marty Snider.

Also of note, during that yellow, Versus played the audio from Race Control while they were trying to set the order. If you’re looking for similarities between major league racing and the local short tracks, you got it here. Barnhart was basically voicing out the order by car number and trying to revert the field to the order previous to the wreck, minus those who were wrecked. It’s the same thing that Lebanon Valley Speedway’s officials do on Saturday night during yellows.

However, all that pales in comparison to what nearly happened at the start of the race. Check this and this out. That actually happened. What the heck? Where was Race Control on that? Versus couldn’t do anything about it, but that’s insane.

Post-race coverage was quite substantial. Versus provided viewers with a total of 13 post-race interviews, in addition to checks of the unofficial results and point standings. Also, Versus tends to do post-race interviews with drivers from all over the board. As a result, viewers get a better idea of what was going on out there on the track.

Unfortunately, only so many people tuned in. Apparently, according to the Indianapolis Star’s Curt Cavin, the race got a .43 rating on Versus. Granted, that is a substantial increase over the Kentucky race that aired Labor Day weekend last season, but it still makes the series almost invisible. Maybe with the upcoming name change to the NBC Sports Channel, the series will become more visible. Versus seems to like the series and gives them a lot of coverage, but they need to get the word out more beyond the network to attract more viewers. How they can do that is anyone’s guess, but it has to be done.

Good Sam Club 200

Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned to Atlanta Motor Speedway for their annual visit to the high banks. SPEED’s usual crew was on hand for all of the proceedings.

The main feature on the Setup Friday night was a piece on Brad Keselowski Racing and driver Parker Kligerman. However, unlike the last Kligerman feature, this one was more focused on the team itself and their status as a lone wolf in the series. Thought it was interesting, although I think they might have taped the piece at the same time that they taped the last Kligerman feature.

The Vault covered the 2008 E-Z-Go 200, where the championship tides turned. Ryan Newman, who had just replaced Jack Sprague for that one race only, took the lead from Ron Hornaday on the final lap to take the win. That pass ended up costing Hornaday the title.

SPEED’s race coverage was quite good. There was a decent amount of coverage all over the field, so viewers weren’t left in the dark as to how people got where.

However, I didn’t necessarily agree with everything the commentators actually said during the race. On Lap 34, Johnny Sauter and Nelson Piquet, Jr. had contact exiting Turn 4. The commentators were under the opinion that another car running near the wall forced Piquet to turn to the left and hit Sauter, which basically started Sauter’s litany of issues during the race. I see it differently. I don’t doubt that there was another car up there, but it simply looked like Sauter got tight and understeered into Piquet.

SPEED did a good job explaining how Clint Bowyer lost the lead to Kyle Busch while faking a move to pit road. Under normal circumstances, the pace car moves faster around the track than the speed limit on pit road. In order to get down to pit road speed and still fake Kyle out, Bowyer would have needed to get down even further so that he could travel a shorter distance. Still, it is a rather bush league way to lose the lead in a race.

The only real issue I had with the telecast was that the last segment of the event was far too focused on Hornaday and his fuel mileage gamble. Yes, it paid off, but I’m sure there was more action for position throughout the field. However, I want to know what you guys think about this. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

Post-race coverage was fairly decent. SPEED provided seven post-race interviews along with checks of the unofficial results and point standings. Nothing really ground breaking, but just fine.

I enjoyed watching SPEED’s telecast. I still find the Truck Series telecasts to be some of the best NASCAR TV out there. The Fox News Channel, SPEED’s corporate sibling, constantly talks about being “fair and balanced,” regardless of whether they actually are or not (this isn’t the place for that debate, but just follow me here). SPEED’s truck telecasts are probably the closest that NASCAR has to a fair and balanced broadcast. I hope that SPEED can keep this up for the rest of the season and beyond.


Marty Reid’s hesitation on-air harmed ESPN 2’s broadcast of the Nationwide race this week. Image by ESPNMediazone.com

Great Clips 300

Saturday night brought the Nationwide Series out to play in Atlanta. With all the god-awful weather we’ve had this weekend, it’s actually quite surprising that ESPN 2 went on-air on time from Atlanta. ESPN 2 had the Western Michigan-Michigan game that got called off late in the third quarter, much like what ESPN had to deal with Sunday. As a result, there was a brief break where viewers were sent back to Ann Arbor, Michigan for a wrap-up since the game was called during NASCAR Countdown.

Countdown, this week only a half-hour in length, featured the usual pre-race analysis from the Pit Studio. I don’t feel that I learned anything new. There were also six pre-race interviews with a variety of drivers.

In addition, Saturday marked the third Ricky vs. Trevor feature of the season. This time, the two racers/teammates/buddies had a strange relay race. They were situated on coolers with wheels on them. The event required the drivers to ride to a table, down some meat (by whatever means necessary), then ride to a certain point, pull a U, throw a spiral, then race back and cross the start-finish line. Trevor Bayne stuffed his craw with meat to gain an advantage over the apparently more civilized Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (he took the time to eat his meat with a fork and knife) and take the win. Interesting piece, even though it’s an obvious advertisement for the website that’s been carrying those mini competitions all season. The question is whether there will be a fourth mini-competition on ESPN this season. They made it sound like there will be. Where it will be is anyone’s guess.

I hope you guys got your fill of Nationwide-regular discussion during Countdown, because you got roughly “custody of my diddly squat” for much of ESPN’s broadcast on Saturday night. This was a race in which six of the top-10 starters were Cup regulars and all but one of the top-10 starters (Ryan Truex) had previously started a Cup race this season.

Especially early in the race, there was a very strong focus on those drivers currently in the top-5. Those drivers were basically all Cup guys (Edwards, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, etc.). Because of this focus, I was thinking that we were lucky to get updates on Timmy Hill’s transmission issues when they happened. ESPN obviously knew based on their information gathering that they weren’t going to S&P the No. 15. They haven’t done that all year. Rick Ware Racing has gone to great lengths to make sure that doesn’t happen. The No. 71 actually wasn’t going to S&P either, but first-time Nationwide starter Clay Greenfield was forced to retire after basically getting body slammed by Kasey Kahne. The result of that hit was that Greenfield ended up in the wall exiting Turn 4. ESPN actually mistook Greenfield for the aforementioned Hill.

There was a rather irritating instance on Lap 134 when ESPN went to commercial just as Eric McClure smacked the wall for the second time. Marty Reid seemed confused. Granted, us viewers could easily see that the yellow was out, yet he apparently could not. Perhaps Atlanta should install those vertical LED strips that Texas Motor Speedway has on the catch fences. I’d imagine those things are kinda annoying in person during night races, but they would definitely stand out. The reason why it’s so annoying is that if Reid had realized that the yellow was out, perhaps ESPN could have called off (or at least temporarily held off) going to the local commercial break. As it stands, ESPN took a regular length break, then came back right during the stops. Reid’s indecision seemingly caused a panic in the TV compound, and that simply will not work.

Even though I’m generally not all that pleased with ESPN’s broadcast, I have to give them a thumbs up for showing viewers that nasty looking right front tire off of Stenhouse’s No. 6. Chewed up to heck and back. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that without it actually blowing out, not even at Darlington before it was repaved. That could be a horrible problem today when the race runs.

Post-race coverage was typical. ESPN provided viewers with four post-race driver interviews and an interview with the winning crew chief (Mike Beam). In addition, there was a check of the point standings before ESPN left the air.

Indecisiveness always hurts telecasts, and Reid definitely was a detriment to the broadcast as mentioned above. That cannot continue. A play-by-play man must be sure-footed, headstrong and confident. Reid doesn’t seem very confident right now. Now, I’m sure that if I pressed on this issue, there is no way in heck that Reid’s removal from Sprint Cup telecasts would be described by anyone involved as a “demotion.” In fact, they would go to great lengths to say something along the lines of that it was a mutually beneficial decision, and so on and so forth. Regardless of what they’re calling it, Reid is just not feeling it right now, and it’s a shame. Of course, that’s not the only problem ESPN’s Nationwide coverage has at the moment. They still need to properly cover more drivers as well.

That’s all for this week. This weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series make their second trip of the year to Richmond International Raceway. If everything goes to plan, Saturday night will mark the end of the “Race to the Chase.” In addition, the Formula One World Championship will make their 61st visit to the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza for the Grand Prix of Italy on Sunday. Here’s your weekly listings.

Tuesday, September 6 (Today)

Time Telecast Network
11:00am-? Sprint Cup Series Advocare 500 ESPN

Friday, September 9

Time Telecast Network
4:00am-5:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Italy Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Italy Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
12:00pm-2:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice ESPN 2
2:30-3:30pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour ESPN 2
4:00-5:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
5:30-7:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN 2
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN 2
7:30-10:00pm Nationwide Series Virginia 529 College Savings 250 ESPN 2

Saturday, September 10

Time Telecast Network
5:00am-6:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Italy Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Italy Qualifying SPEED
9:00-9:55am NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
5:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ABC
7:30-11:00pm Sprint Cup Series Wonderful Pistachios 400 ABC
11:00pm-12:00am NASCAR Now, Post-Race ESPN 2
11:30pm-12:00am NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED%

Sunday, September 11

Time Telecast Network
6:00am-7:30am GP2 Feature Race, Italy SPEED*
7:30-10:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Italy SPEED
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
9:00-10:00pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

*- Tape Delayed
^- Available via free streaming
%- Tentative time, more or less dependant upon when ESPN’s broadcast on ABC ends.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races from Richmond for next Tuesday’s critique here at Frontstretch. If you are looking for a critique of ESPN’s coverage of the Advocare 500, you’re in luck. I will be covering it this week in the Critic’s Annex. You need to subscribe to the Frontstretch Newsletter in order to see it, but that’s no sweat. Just click on the Newsletter link in the Menu bar and enter you e-mail address and you’re good to go. It’ll be in Thursday’s edition.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique,
feel free to post in the comments below, or contact me through the email address provided on the website in my bio. Also, if you would like to follow me via Twitter, you can go to my Twitter page here. And if you would like to contact any of the TV partners personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:

SPEED
ESPN

As always, if you choose to contact the network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Jim
09/06/2011 07:13 AM
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Some time in the late eighties or early nineties, I remember a feature during one of the races broadcasts in which spotters for the booth guys were spotlighted. Did the networks eliminate that position? If so, when? That may well tell the tale of people forever lost in the booth.

Matt L
09/06/2011 10:09 AM
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I hope IndyCar continues to grow, they have a good package on Versus. I noticed a lot of old NASCAR partners as well. The race was good, the crowd was good, they just need to expose Versus a lot more.

SPEED was great as always, nothing new.

Reid is a lost cause on ESPN. Time & time again he freezes up in high pressure situations. Dull calls to complete silence to the confusion we saw on Saturday. He fumbled the Indy 500 finish, he fumbled the finish of the Nationwide race at Chicago, and the dull call of the finish last week at Bristol. He lost his fire a while ago & I don’t know why.